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The Great Mason Jar Debate (Subtitled – Lacto Fermented Foods Beware)

The Great Mason Jar Ddebate: HybridRastaMama.com Follow Me on Pinterest

I have decided to dip my toe into the controversial waters that have quickly gone from a gentle wave lapping at the shore to a full on rogue wave dividing many a real foodie. Exactly what waters am I referring to?  The mason jar versus Pickl-It debate.

For those of you who have no clue what I am referring to, let me give you the simplified version of a rather complex story.  You see, those of us who subscribe to a real foods diet or a diet designed to heal our guts, typically do a lot of our own lacto-fermentation. What is this lacto-fermentation of which I speak?

The term “fermented” may sound unpalatable but this ancient preparation and preservation method, which involves breaking down carbohydrates and proteins using microorganisms such as bacteria, molds, and yeast, produces delicious, healthy food.

Fermented foods are amazingly powerful. Here is a short list outlining the health  benefits of fermented foods and beverages. They:

  • Help your body breakdown otherwise difficult to digest foods and make the nutrients more accessible
  • Maintain a more regular and efficient digestive system
  • Promote more efficient energy production
  • Increase nutrient consumption, absorption and impact
  • Build immune function by stimulating cellular and antibody function and creating more immunoreactive cells
  • Help build and maintain a healthy intestinal wall that resists leakage of harmful toxins into the bloodstream caused by poor diet and digestion
  • Decrease allergic reactions by exposing your body to natural microbial colonies, which helps develop immunity to allergen exposure
  • Restore digestive health and re-build gut flora after exposure to antibiotics, which kill all good and bad bacteria
  • Increase the vitamin content of the food
  • Lower cholesterol
  • Reverse hypertension by lowering blood pressure
  • Help alleviate irritable bowel symptoms
  • Aid digestion of lactose and proteins

There is a lot more science behind all of this but since this post is going to get a little lengthy, I wanted to keep your attention long enough to get to the real heart of the issue at hand.

The Great Debate

KerryAnn of Cooking Traditional Foods fame opened up a discussion that took on a life of its own. In the spirit of keeping health conscious individuals well informed, KerryAnn embarked upon a series of posts which blew the lid off of the mason jar. You see, mason jars have been the go-to vessel to ferment foods in. They are also often used to store fermented foods in. 

The mason jar was given the thumbs up by Sally Fallon in Nourishing Traditions as well as by Sandor Ellix Katz in Wild Fermentation.  Seeing that both Sally Fallon and Sandor Ellix Katz are considered authorities on lacto-fermentation, it is no wonder that nobody thought to question the use of a mason jar.

Well, KerryAnn did and boy did she step in a big steaming pile of you know what because of it.

Let me try to keep this simple again. KerryAnn proposes that the mason jar is actually NOT the ideal vessel to ferment and store fermented foods in. In effect, it has the potential to do more harm than good. She goes so far as to suggest that you might not be getting many of those health benefits I listed if you are using a mason jar.

Why all the fuss over a mason jar?

There is no way to keep this short and to the point so I suggest that you visit KerryAnn’s series to get the full picture. (Links are at the end of this post).

What this all boils down to is the fact that in order for a food to properly ferment, it needs an airtight environment. This snippet from one of KerryAnn’s posts, Controversy: Pickl-It vs. Mason Jars, discusses this.

Research shows that LAB (Lactic Acid Bacteria) thrives best in an anaerobic environment. Anaerobic means that oxygen is not present; aerobic means that oxygen is present. In order to get LABs to proliferate, you must have an anaerobic environment to encourage their growth while discouraging the growth of all non-beneficial species, especially the aerobic ones.

In order to get an anaerobic environment for home fermentation you need two things- a seal that prevents oxygen from entering and an airlock that allows carbon dioxide to escape. Without an anaerobic environment, the LABs will not flourish. Open air fermentation will not produce large concentrations of LABs. As the bacteria produce carbon dioxide and use up the oxygen, it reduces the population of undesirable, aerobic bacteria and allows the LAB to flourish in the oxygenless environment. The Pickl-It provides this type of environment, as it as an airtight seal and an airlock for the growing carbon dioxide to escape.

Remember all those health benefits I outlined above?  Well, without LABs present in your fermented foods, you aren’t getting squat. Ok, maybe you are getting a little something, but LABs are what makes the fermented foods world go ‘round.

Houston, we have a problem!

The backlash from KerryAnn’s research and subsequent posts has been overwhelming. I have been keeping up with it and can see how easily confused just about everyone can get. With so many people married to their mason jars, convinced that they have been doing it correctly and benefiting, it is no wonder that the fermenters of the world are up in arms. Creatures of habit that we humans are, we sure do not like change.

There have been some rather nasty comments pointed at KerryAnn as it relates to her endorsing the Pickl-It as well. Many individuals are convinced that this entire fiasco is related to some sort of business relationship she has with Pickl-It and that KerryAnn is making a mountain out of a molehill in the name of the almighty dollar.

Say it ain’t so!

Well, it ain’t so folks. KerryAnn isn’t making diddly from Pickl-It. If anything, endorsing Pickl-It as the fermenting vessel of choice has caused HER more harm than good. But in the name of science and health, KerryAnn is continuing to research and provide sound, scientific information so that we can all decide to what to do about our collection of mason jars.

What would Hybrid Rasta Mama do?

So glad you asked!

When I first started my fermentation journey, I was using mason jars like everyone else. I knew about fermenting crocks but could not afford one. So I plugged away, fermenting my foods in my little mason jars.

My success rate was pretty bleak. My gluten free sourdough starter loved his mason jar, sauerkraut did ok about 50% of the time, and my lemons were a success but everything else…a complete mess! We’re talking fuzzy mold, white mold, slime, stink, and unusual colors. I had soggy, soggy ferments. No crisp and tangy fermented foods in my kitchen!

I hated wasting food.  I hated wasting money. I looked online for a solution. I found a really mind-blowing course on fermenting foods from Jenny of Nourished Kitchen. Get Cultured – Learn How To Ferment Anything was awesome but I was still having troubles with the final fermented product.

I kept searching for an answer. Was it where I was putting my mason jars? Was it how I was cleaning my mason jars? Was it the brand of salt?

After a few weeks of blowing up Google, I finally stumble on Pickl-It’s website. I read every word contained on its pages. I soaked up the information. I did more research. I actually read several scientific studies about the art of fermentation. And I was convinced that it was the mason jar’s inability to create an airtight environment that was causing all of my fermenting woes.

I ordered several Pickl-Its and NEVER looked back. My ferments have been beautiful and delicious ever since. And better yet – I have noticed a huge difference in how my body responds to fermented food now that it is fermenting properly and soaking up all those little LABs.

No – I am not part of some mason jar/Pickl-It conspiracy!

To prove it, I am going to provide you with links to OTHER products that are similar to the Pickl-It. I have not used them personally and cannot testify to their fermenting prowess but I will say that they have potential for greatness. You will notice that I also include links to products that do not include the jars but instead provide an airlock system that you can use on your existing mason jars. I am honestly on the fence about these. KerryAnn raised some interesting points about this concept as well but this post is already too long so I’m going to leave well enough alone!

In addition, if mason jars are all you can afford then go for it! I’m not telling you to stop doing something if you are quite sure it is working. But my advice…start squirreling away your pocket change so you can invest in at least one product that will create the perfect, airtight environment for those delectable ferments of yours.

Onto showcase #1…

Cultures For Health has two products available
Fermented Vegetable Master – This glass jar includes an airlock set-up which facilitates gas escaping your fermented vegetables while keeping air out. It is more basic than the Pickl-It but it is cheaper running $11-$22.

The Perfect PicklerThis airlock set up fits on standard wide-mouth canning jars (specifically Kerr* and Ball* brands of jars). For $19.99 you get a lid and grommet, s-style airlock, rubber gasket, spacer cup, 1/4 lb. Celtic Sea Salt, and instructions. Does not include the jar.

And in our second showcase…

Homesteader Supplies has two products available as well:
Pickle-Pro Home Pickling Kit which is another all-in-one airlock set up with a glass jar. Prices range from $11.88-$18.30.

Pickle-Pro Vegetable Fermenting Lid – for $14.40 you get a lid with airlock and a rubber seal that fits all wide mouth canning jars.
With a special third showcase…

Perfect Pickler also has two products:
Glass Jar Kit – for $25.50 you get the glass jar with the special airlock and lid. It also has a spacer cup.
Mason Jar Kit – for $19.50 you get the airlock lid that fits any size mason jar.

And of course, the Pickl-It
They only offer the all-in-one system that comes with:

  • Glass Fermenting Container – lead-free, high-quality, Italian-made glass with stainless steel, lead-free wire-bail; meets California safety standards.
  • Glass Lid with installed airlock grommet – lead-free Italian glass and stainless steel, lead-free wire-bail; USA-made silicone grommet specially-designed to resist lactic-acid created during fermentation; meets California safety standards.
  • Barrel Air Lock – Widely used in the making of beer and wine, allows escape of damaging oxygen, and excess carbon dioxide gas, prevents oxygen from entering; 3-part system is easy to disassemble and clean.
  • Dunk’R – High-quality laboratory food-grade, toxin-free, food-safe glass weight;
  • Plug’R: Superior dishwasher-safe and lactic-acid resistant silicone, the Plug’R converts the Pickl-It containers from fermentation to refrigerated food-storage.
  • BPA-Free Cover Gasket – Superior all-natural rubber material is food-safe; dish-washer safe; one-size fits all Pickl-It lids

Prices range from $23-$39, depending on size. You can order a bundle of three or more and save 5%.

So many choices, so much information, so little time!

I encourage you to continue on in your quest for fermenting knowledge. As promised, here are KerryAnn’s posts, all of which are incredibly informative and a must read if you are trying to figure out this whole mason jar controversy!

And here are a few more posts worth reading:

 

Are you still with me? Did I lose you along the way? If not, what are your thoughts? Please play nice. My blog is filled with peace and love. Let’s not upset the apple cart ok?

 

Comments

  1. This a great summation of this ridiculous debacle…I’m glad that Kerry Ann has taken the time and effort to share this critical info with us!

  2. Once again Jennifer you have blown my day, but in a good way. You see my family, and I are new to all of this, but doing what we can to be healthier, this post so has my attention, and all the links. See if I do not read now, I will not read later, but first that blog needs to go up, thanks for sharing.

  3. So, maybe this is an odd question, and I don’t mean to sound like a downer at all, but weren’t all ferments of the past made in such a way that they would not have an anaerobic environment? These foods surely still had beneficial qualities, and while the truly anaerobic environment may increase the benefits of lactofermented foods, it would be interesting to know some of the specific differences between the two fermentation methods. Using a truly anaerobic environment also raises questions about the danger of botulism, since it thrives in anaerobic environments, or would there be enough lactic acid bacteria to kill it? Obviously I need to do some of my own research, but I hoping that someone here could address my concerns, or at least point me in the right direction to find the information I am looking for.

  4. @elizrbaldwin Keep your eye on KerryAnn’s blog. She has a lot more to say on this subject.

    Also, I think that the bacteria we are dealing with today is MUCH different than the bacteria of our ancestors which MAY account for the need to have a truly anaerobic environment. No one today would grab the freshest cow stomach, pack it with veggies, tie it up and bury it as a means of fermenting. The climate, the chemicals, the pollutants and toxins would make us weary of doing this. PLUS, all of our bodily systems have changed over time. We can’t handle bacteria in the same way our ancestors can. We are wimpy thanks to processed foods.

    Sorry for the little rant there. That is just my opinion but I really think that this is what it boils down to. We have changed, bacteria has changed, and the earth has changed. No wonder the way we ferment needs to change.

  5. Thank you for your response. I will have to check out KerryAnn’s page and do some digging around in the posts.
    I think your ideas on the bacteria being different and the amount of pollution in our environment are very interesting. It is quite possible that those factors affect more than we realize, in more than just fermentation processes.
    And I also agree that we have been made wimpy by processed foods! Most of the push against fermented foods, raw milk, etc. is merely cultural. We have become a culture of prepackaged, over processed, chemical laden foods, and we have become micro-phobes. The thought of bacteria in food can send some people off the deep end, and that’s only because our society has vilified microorganisms. It’s very interesting to me that we are squeamish about bacteria in our food, yet very few people think anything about animal genes in their vegetables.
    I guess I just had my own little rant!:) But, this is my opinion on the matter at hand, and I think that as long as a person is satisfied with his/her ferments, then that is the method that works for them.

  6. It seems like there is conflicting information in the science world. Does or does not oxygen inhibit lactobacillis. I have read that it does not, but KerryAnn obviously has researched that it “thrives best” with no oxygen.

    I don’t have all the answers. But for me personally, I would conclude that if I want to go the extra mile and “possibly” produce more lactobacillis and “definitely” create an environment that the bifidus types and others can also grow, then you need a pickle-it type set-up. Otherwise, if you are happy with your ferments (and there is no question that they are “ferments”) using mason jars, then yes, you are definitely getting a good amount of lactobacillis.

    Knowing this for myself, I will probably go ahead and get the pickle-its when and if I ever get the funds to do so but I am not going to abandon my mason jar ferments, because I don’t think they are completely worthless. And to credit KerryAnn (even more for a wonderful job at making us take a new look at an old tradition) she never said mason jar ferments were worthless. She just said that some people might need a more aggressive approach to healing depending on their situation. For others, these might be all they need. Only that individual can make that decision.

    Peace and Love
    Meg

  7. Kandy Inglis says:

    Elizrbaldwin, if you go to the pickl-it site, they have done terrific research on lactofermentation, it’s all there, complete with citations!

  8. I am wondering if you have the answer to this. I make my own babyhood, but have not been happy with any of the storage containers.

    All of my baby food is eaten within a few days of being made. I am not looking to store long term.

    Wondering if a mason jar is an option. Now i wouldn’t give it the sealing bath. But I would just store it in the fridge for a few days.

    Would this work?

  9. @Kristen Yes!!!! I use mason jars to store all kinds of food and used them for my daughter’s baby food all the time. They work great for everything BUT fermenting!

  10. Thanks for linking to my post Jennifer!! I enjoyed reading your thoughts on the matter too! :)

  11. Melissa Bishop says:

    Great article, thanks! I have a crock but was going to experiment with some regular Mason jars. You saved me time and money.

  12. Thank you for this information! As I am a beginner, but a believer in lacto-fermentation this discussion was truly useful. I love whole foods and traditional foods, but fermentation had always seemed difficult as the final result from experts, like my mom, could be disappointing. Perhaps there are some secrets in the process that a simple tool could fix?

  13. HI there.

    I am new to fermentation – have been reading GAPS book. Dr. Campbell-McBride describes that she puts a lid/plate on the veggies to let it drown in its own juice (this is inside the bowl/jar. Is this something you do as well? How do you keep the veggies soaked in th juice whil it’s fermenting? Do you leave space between the veggies and the top lid?

    Thank You for taking the time to read this.

    Best K

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